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Whistleblower says DeepMind waited months to fire investigator accused of sexual misconduct

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A former employee of DeepMind, Google’s AI research lab, accuses the company’s human resources department of deliberately delaying response to its complaints of sexual misconduct in the workplace, first reported by the Financial times

In an open letter posted on Medium, the former employee (who goes to Julia to protect her identity) says she was sexually harassed for months by a senior researcher while working at the London-based firm. During this time, she was reportedly subjected to numerous sexual proposals and inappropriate messages, including some describing past sexual assaults against women and threats of self-harm.

Julia reached out to the company’s HR and complaints team as early as August 2019 to outline her interactions with the senior investigator, and she filed a formal complaint in December 2019. The investigator in question was reportedly fired only in October 2020. . no suspension and even received a company award while HR handled Julia’s complaint, leaving Julia fearing for her – and her other female colleagues’ – safety.

Although the Financial timesAccording to the report, her case was not fully resolved until seven months after she first reported the misconduct, Julia told The edge that the whole process actually took 10 months. She claims that DeepMind’s communications team used “semantics” to “push back” on the… Financial times‘ story and shorten the amount of time it took to hear her case.

“It was, in fact, 10 months, she… [DeepMind] claimed it was ‘only’ 7 because the appeal was then over, although the disciplinary hearing took another 2 months and included more rounds of interviews for me,” Julia said. “My point remains: whether it was 10 or 7 months, it was way, way too long.”

In addition to believing her case was “deliberately dragged out,” Julia also claims that two separate HR executives told her she would take “disciplinary action” if she spoke out. Her manager allegedly asked her to attend meetings with the senior investigator as well, despite being “partially” aware of her report, the Financial times say. While Julia herself has not signed a nondisclosure agreement, many other DeepMind employees have.

in a separate post on MediumJulia and others offered several suggestions on how Alphabet (the parent company of Google and DeepMind) could improve its response to complaints and reported issues, such as abolishing the NDA policy for victims and setting a strict two-month time limit for HR to resolve complaints.

The Alphabet Workers Union also expressed its support for Julia in a tweetnoting: “The NDAs we sign should never be used to silence victims of harassment or abuse in the workplace. Alphabet should have a global policy against this.”

In a statement to The edgeLaura Anderson, DeepMind’s interim head of communications, acknowledged the struggles Julia went through but avoided taking responsibility for her experiences. “DeepMind takes all allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously and we put the safety of our employees at the heart of all actions we take,” Anderson said. “The allegations were thoroughly investigated and the person under investigation for misconduct was fired without any severance pay… We are sorry that our former employee experienced what they did and we recognize that they found the process difficult.”

DeepMind has faced concerns about the treatment of employees in the past. in 2019, a Bloomberg report said DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, aka “Moose,” was placed on administrative leave due to the controversy surrounding some of his projects. Suleyman left the company later that year to join Google. In 2021, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that Suleyman lost his management duties in 2019 for allegedly bullying employees. Google also launched an investigation into his behavior at the time, but never made its findings public.

“If someone is in a similar situation, first, now, before something bad happens, join a union,” Julia said in response to the wider concerns. “Then if something bad happens, document everything. Know your rights. Don’t let them drag it out. Stay vocal. These stories are real, they happen to your colleagues.”

Correction Apr 5 6:51 PM ET: An earlier version of the story stated that Julia signed an NDA. She didn’t, but other DeepMind employees did. We regret the mistake.

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